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Cause Properties Think Like Marketers to Attract Sponsors

Cause Properties Think Like Marketers to Attract Sponsors

5 minute read

• Charities have shifted their marketing tactics from consistently communicating the impact of the cause using emotional appeals, to creating a brand narrative that transcends the cause itself

• This shift is a result of several factors including increased competition for fundraising dollars and consumers becoming more educated

• Despite the importance of marketing, it is crucial to maintain a balance and not diminish or make light of the cause

For many years charities have used similar marketing tactics such as displaying sad imagery and messaging to encourage people to donate. However, now more than ever, charities have looked beyond traditional charitable marketing tactics. In some cases these new strategies have seen big payoffs, leading to investments from corporate sponsors. When a charity builds their brand in a smart, strategic way, they can encourage partners to go beyond writing a cheque and drive a deep association with more than just the benefactor.

Why Charities Need to Think like Marketers

Break Though Significant Competition- There are over 85,000 charities registered with the Canadian Revenue Agency all competing for their share of donations. In 2013, Canadians donated a total of $12,763,566 to charity and if all donations were distributed equally, each charity would receive about $148 for the year. This demonstrates the amount of competition amongst charities who are competing for a finite amount of funding from the public. Creating a brand around a charity can make them stand out and win a greater share of funding from the public.

Hedge Against Unreliable Funding- A number of charities receive funding from the government in the way of grants or tax rebates. However, federal spending can change year over year and new leadership can also add to funding uncertainty. To ensure charities receive the funding they need, charities must appeal to the public to secure funding - both from small individual donors and sponsoring brands. By investing in the +brand in a way that goes beyond the cause itself, charities can make themselves an attractive investment target.

Appeal to More Educated Consumers- A 2013 study conducted by the London School of Economics discovered charities that have overt advertising showing human suffering can cause distrust in the charity. The study pointed to the famous “Kony 2012” campaign which many were skeptical of the charity’s motives. Successful charities have gone beyond showing negative imagery in hopes of soliciting donations and used different tactics.

Successful Charities Thinking Like Marketers

The Movember Foundation- Beginning in 2004 a group of 30 Australian men grew moustaches in order to raise awareness for prostate cancer and depression in men. The group later went on to become The Movember Foundation and have encouraged men from around the world to grow moustaches in order to raise money and awareness. Since Movember began in 2004, the foundation has raised $550 million worldwide with close to 5 million people participating in Movember. The Movember Foundation’s campaign was innovative when it asked people to grow their facial hair for the month in support of the cause. Its branding involved light hearted messaging that reinforced their foundations message to educate men on their health and spot early forms of cancer. The Movember Foundation’s ability to build their brand has helped them attract attention from other organizations as they have partnered with Visa, NHL, Google, Toms, and more.

Make-A-Wish Foundation- In 2013, the San Francisco chapter of the Make-A-Wish Foundation granted a wish to Miles Scott, who became known as Batkid. Miles’ wish was to be a superhero for the day. Make-A-Wish was promoting the wish when it was discovered by a local social media agency who offered to help market the wish pro bono. The agency began circulating the word on social media and soon it became a viral sensation. San Francisco allowed Batkid to be the city’s superhero and received congratulations from a number of notable figures including Barack Obama. International media covered the event and the interest in the event brought so much traffic to the Make a Wish website that it crashed. The Make-A-Wish Foundation saw a 26% increase in donations after the event as compared to the same time as last year. The social media coverage and buzz created by the marketing agency allowed people to engage with the event from all over the world.

SickKids Hospital- SickKids, the Toronto Children’s hospital celebrated their 140th anniversary last year and to mark the occasion the integrated their brand into a Christmas special episode of CBC’s Murdoch Mysteries. The show takes place in the early 1900’s allowing SickKids to authentically integrate themselves into the programming. During the episode, CBC aired an ad at the bottom of the screen encouraging people to donate to the hospital and promoted the event through social media. The campaign was a major success and raised over $49 million for SickKids. SickKids looked beyond a typical telethon to bring awareness to the hospital and the innovative strategy paid off for SickKids who has gone on to work with other brands such as Kraft who are now educating the public on children’s allergies. 

Key Considerations

Be mindful of “Slacktivists”- In the summer of 2014, the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge was a viral sensation that had people pouring water over themselves in support of ALS. The challenge was rapidly shared online, however it received some backlash from critics who said many performing the act were failing to donate. When creating a movement in order to galvanize the public, it is important for charities to make fundraising simple - and communicate and celebrate those who are putting their money where their mouth is in the face of pushback.

Think like marketers while monitoring marketing spend- The NFL and the American Cancer Society partner every October for Breast Cancer Awareness Month. One way the NFL promotes this is through NFL branded pink merchandising. It was commonly thought that the money from the pink merchandise would go towards breast cancer research, however, in 2013 it was reported that only 8% of the money went towards research. The story became very popular making the whole initiative seem more like a marketing ploy than a charitable initiative. It is important to remember that end goal of the marketing initiatives is to ultimately raise funds for the cause. When that is no longer the case, people may spot the efforts as inauthentic.

Charities have always relied on marketing as a way to secure donations from the public, however, the tone of these campaigns has evolved in order to connect with donors and sponsors over a shared purpose that goes beyond the benefactor.

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